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Aeolian dune-field development in a water table-controlled system: Skeiđarársandur, Southern Iceland

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Abstract

Aeolian dune fields characterized by partly vegetated bedforms undergoing active construction and with interdune depressions that lie at or close to the water table are widespread on Skeiđarársandur, Southern Iceland. The largest aeolian dune complex on the sandur covers an area of 80 km2 and is characterized by four distinct landform types: (i) spatially isolated aeolian dunes; (ii) extensive areas of damp and wet (flooded) interdune flat with small fluvial channels; (iii) small aeolian dune fields composed of assemblages of bedforms with simple morphologies and small, predominantly damp, interdune corridors; and (iv) larger aeolian dune fields composed of assemblages of complex bedforms floored by older aeolian dune deposits that are themselves raised above the level of the surrounding wet sandur plain. The morphology of each of these landform areas reflects a range of styles of interaction between aeolian dune, interdune and fluvial processes that operate coevally on the sandur surface. The geometry, scale, orientation and facies composition of sets of strata in the cores of the aeolian dunes, and their relationship to adjoining interdune strata, have been analysed to explain the temporal behaviour of the dunes in terms of their mode of initiation, construction, pattern of migration, style of accumulation and nature of preservation. Seasonal and longer-term flooding-induced changes in water table level have caused episodic expansion and contraction of the wet interdune ponds. Most of the dunes are currently undergoing active construction and migration and, although sediment availability is limited because of the high water table, substantial aeolian transport must occur, especially during winter months when the surface of the wet interdune ponds is frozen and sand can be blown across the sandur without being trapped by surface moisture. Bedforms within the larger dune fields have grown to a size whereby formerly damp interdune flats have been reduced to dry enclosed depressions and dry aeolian system accumulation via bedform climb is ongoing. Despite regional uplift of the proximal sandur surface in response to glacial retreat and unloading over the past century, sediment compaction-induced subsidence of the distal sandur is progressively placing aeolian deposits below the water table and is enabling the accumulation of wet aeolian systems and increasing the likelihood of their long-term preservation. Wet, dry and stabilizing aeolian system types all co-exist on Skeiđarársandur and the dunes are variously undergoing coeval construction, accumulation, bypass, stabilization and destruction as a result of interactions between localized factors.

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